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spikegifted.net - Archive Q4 2009



December 2009: 
Home: The weather in the final few days in Brittany was glorious. So we took the opportunities offered and went for some nice walks along the beaches. The smell of sea air is always invigorating. Also, the tides were favorable on a couple of days so we went for nice walks on Sept Îles and Île de Berder, as both islands are cut off from the mainland during high tides, we would only venture across during low tides. We were pushing our luck a little when we visited Berder - after completing the walk around the island, the tide was just coming in, there was a trickle of water on the path joining the island with the mainland. As there were a few groups of people still on the island, we waited around to see them across. There were little kids that were carried across by adults in the groups. There were older folks who were helped across or even piggy-backed. Within 10 minutes, the sea was beyond ankle height. The last group of people returning had to wade through knee deep freezing cold sea water! That could not have been an enjoyable experience.
Home: We have never seen so much rain in all of our stays in Brittany. It was raining non-stop for the first three days when we were there! Still, we managed to do a few things despite the weather. One minor annoyance, at least for the Ruler_of_spike, was that she had to lay off the seafood. It is a well known fact that various types of seafood have varying levels of mercury, mainly thanks to mankind's activities. Typical advice from medical professionals is to stop having seafood, pate, cured meat and raw eggs during pregnancy, to reduce the chance of picking up some rather nasty illnesses. The drawback is that in Brittany, seafood, pate and cured meat form such big parts of the diet. Cutting them out really limits what you can have, especially when we went out to restaurants. I wonder how people managed in the past, when they were medically less well-informed?
Home: I know I've mentioned this before, but motorway driving in France is such a pleasure compared with my experience in the UK. There are far fewer lorries (thanks to the excellent rail freight network) and more sensible driving (very few people hog the fast lane). Before we knew it, we were well over half way to south Brittany. That was when the heavens opened up and poured down. Rain accompanied us pretty much the rest of our journey. At times, it was so heavy that it was difficult to see out of the windscreen. It was dangerous!
Home: Although we didn't realize it in the beginning, the sea during the crossing was actually really rough. It was easy to forget as we were resting in the cabin which did not have windows so we could not relate to the gentle vibration we experienced to anything other than the engine of the ferry. Of course, we did detect the occasional sudden knocks made by the waves and the current. Being in the depth of winter also meant that we did not venture out on deck despite the early part of our crossing took place during the day.
Home: The drive down to Portsmouth was uneventful as not many people were out and about on Boxing Day. The only problem on the road was the spray from other cars. The only response the UK authorities have to snow and ice is grit, and lots of it. Mixing grit with water and oils from the vehicles results in this horrible mixture that sticks to car windscreens and this mess is impossible to clear away. By the time we got to the ferry terminal in Portsmouth, my windscreen was one massive blur which I could hardly see out of. Good job we had some windscreen fluid which we could use to clear it up.
Home: The snow has eased back a little, but the weather forecasters were still predicting some really nasty weather. As we have plans for immediately after Christmas, we chose not to do too much before we go, so it was a quiet time for the Ruler_of_spike and I, and the two she is carrying. We needed all the rest we could get though as we were going to travel to France on Boxing Day.
Home: Merry Christmas everybody!!
Home: We have an excellent piece of news! The Ruler_of_spike is pregnant! With twins!! It has been a very long time in waiting and we have had to overcome a lot of hurdles to get to where we are right now. At the same time, we both recognize that there are many more hurdles to negotiate before they are born. Of course, the real story really starts then.
At the time of writing, she is in the 19th week of the pregnancy and we are expecting the babies in May. I am very grateful that everything has gone well so far for the Ruler_of_spike as well for those she is carrying. We shall be keeping our fingers crossed that all will be well to the end of the pregnancy and beyond. We know the babies are not here yet, we want to thank those who have given us words support and encouragement, advice, and offers of help and assistance.
Home: Are we having some weather or what? It first started around ten days before Christmas. First it was the bitter cold from eastern Europe. This was then followed by the first wave of snow, blowing in from the Continent. On the Wednesday evening, it started snowing and by morning, it was a good ten to twelve centimeters of snow in places. Owing to the bitter cold, much of this snow remained and turned into ice. I drove the Ruler_of_spike to the train station one morning and it was like driving in an ice rink. Then there was one evening when I drove up to Wimbledon to pick her up and instead of the usual trip time of around twenty five minutes, it took me nearly eighty minutes just to get there. The problem was that it was raining in late afternoon so the roads could not be gritted as the rain would have wash the salt away. However, that was immediately followed by snow, which, owing to the lack of grit, settled and became ice. The UK is simply not built for this kind weather.
Opinion: It was getting rather stupid. For some strange reason, the UK government saw fit to do two rather outrageous things: 1) interfering directly with the pay regime of a company and 2) taking long-term financial risks for short-term political benefit. First of all, while the UK owned nearly 80% of the Royal Bank of Scotland, the government’s attempt to restrict remuneration of its staff without going through the normal process amounted to abusing its majority shareholder power. Secondly, just because the current government was in difficulties, this could not be the justification for passing populist laws which would have long-term damage to the country’s economy. If I was a shareholder of RBS, I would be very upset by the government’s decision to intervene regarding to the staff’s bonuses. As a shareholder, I would like to see the company I part-owned make as much money as possible. RBS has an excellent investment banking division which could potentially help the taxpayers recovering their investment. While the profitability of a retail bank operation is difficult to change from year to year without dramatic changes to fees or number of clients, the investment banking parts can be the engine for revenue growth. However, penalizing investment bankers who have little or nothing to do with all the past losses would merely demoralizing them. For those who could, they will leave for firms which recognize their talents and reward them accordingly. One of arguments was that there were plenty of talents in London to replace them. However, it must be understood that every time someone leaves a firm, a replacement has to be found, trained and integrated into an existing unit - a process that take time and cost money while not generating much revenue. Unfairly marginalizing investment bankers seems like the surefire way to jeopardize the organizations future profitability. Regarding the heavy tax burden that bankers suddenly found themselves under, this would have a negative long-term effect on the UK financial services industry. While the argument that from a corporation tax perspective, the UK might be a favorable jurisdiction for the firms, it is fast becoming unfavorable for the individuals. Talents are highly mobile and for those who can do better, they will move to locations that are more tax-friendly. Without the talents, there are fewer needs to have the operations and work force to be located in the UK. In the long-term, this will hurt the London as a financial hub to rival New York, Shanghai, Tokyo and Hong Kong. It was not an overstatement that financial services were responsible for over 30% of the UK’s tax revenue. It should also be recognized that the pay and bonuses received by the banking folks in turn drives other parts of the economy. There were no other industries that ready replace the banking sector. A shrinking financial services sector would merely mean a bigger budget deficit for the government. Be careful what you wish for.
Home: We asked the electrician back to do some work. In case you're wondering, he hasn't done anything wrong. It is actually because he has done such a good job the first time round that we've asked him back. It was getting colder and we have a heater we wanted to install in the kitchen, but even after changing the socket, it was still not working. It turned out that, unbeknown to us, a fuse further up in the circuit was blown. It was easy when you have the know-how. In addition to the heater, we wanted to have a new lights installed. We have a light next to the front door, which is very useful when we try to open the door in dark conditions. However, the old one could only be switched on from the inside, which was a bit pointless because we won’t need the light had we been on the inside. So we invested in a light with a proximity switch. Only thing that we need to do was to tune the sensor. Unfortunately, there is something not right with the timing sensor, so the light switches off quickly so we have to keep moving occasionally to keep the light on.
November 2009:
Home: Wow! Have we had some weather lately? For the past week or so, it has been wet, windy and humid. I said wet and I meant it. There were times when it was just pouring down. It was torrential. If anyone was caught in that rain, there wasn't much point braving it, the only way was to hide undercover as the rain was driven horizontal by the wind. Even had you have been equipped with a full length raincoat, you'd still get a soaking. Moreover, the humidity made it all very uncomfortable. Given that we were in the second half of November but still 'enjoying' temperature in the mid-teens, it was unseasonably warm. Of course, this weather made a mess to our plan to tidy up our garden. Looking out from the first floor window, the lawn looked a mess with leaves and broken twigs sown all one the place.
Opinion: I was looking forward to the Sunday Time Magazine. We usually get the Sunday Times and it is usually a good read, but magazine is not usually the item that I spend time going though. However, this one week was different as there was something I really want to read: an interview with the CEO of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein. I was hoping that I would find out more about this firm through the interview but what a massive disappointment it turned out to be. Unlike the financial press, regular newspapers just don’t cut it when it comes to this kind of reporting. The reporter didn’t even bother to distinguish the fact that Goldman is not a traditional commercial/retail bank, it is in fact an investment bank and hence it doesn’t do much lending to companies and individuals. Additionally, the guy didn’t even have the basics in wholesale banking, so whatever the bankers are doing, it appeared complicated to him, but in reality, their strategies are comparatively basic simple stuff. As usual, the piece was a half-baked load of confirming the popular myth (“banking is complicated, leave it to the professionals”) and self-advertisement (“Goldman is not evil, but actually a force for good”). In the end, it gives nothing new to the reader, but disappointment.
Home: Finally, the weather was cooling. While I don’t enjoy cold weather as much as the heat, we needed the weather to switch so that we can get on with work in the garden. The hydrangea was finally beginning to dry and signally time to relocate it from the large pot to a place in the ground. I got all the preparation work done - laying a plastic cover to protect the surrounding grass and I used another sheet to move the dug-up turf to another location in the garden - and I got to work. There were the usual small stones and small lumps of charcoal that I knew the garden was full of. Around twenty five centimeters down, I started to hit hard things. That was strange. I really didn’t expect anything other just top soil and mud. I dug around a little bit and discovered that I was hitting the top of a layer of broken bricks. That was really disheartening. There was no indication if there was more than one layer of bricks and large stones. I maneuvered the wheel barrel next to the hole so to collect the bricks and stones. This has caused some severe delay to the job. I persevered and dug up more bricks. Luckily, it would appear that there was only just that one layer and beyond that there was soil again. I got the hole to the depth of around forty five centimeters. To get the hydrangea out of the pot, I rolled the terracotta pot on its side until the soil inside became loose. At that point, there was still quite a lot of work to do, but I managed to dislodge it from the pot without breaking either the pot or the plant. The rest was comparatively easy. Hopefully, with its new location, the hydrangea would flourish next spring.
October 2009:
Home: There were just so many things that need doing but the weather has made things difficult for us. For example, there were some plants that needed to be planted, the most difficult one was the hydrangea which was in a large terracotta pot. The problem was that owing to the good weather early autumn, most of plants, including the hydrangea, still haven’t lost their leaves. In fact, most of them were still very green and some were still blooming, so we had to wait. On the other hand, we spent some time collected some of the fallen leaves and trimmed away some of the plants. The most enjoyable bit of the work was actually trimming the lavenders. These had massive long flower wands and the dried flowers smelled great! Actually, no only did we trimmed the flower wands, we also collected the flowers separately. We were now trying to find a way to put them in our wardrobes.
Home: It was an absolute pleasure to have my uncle and his wife in our house. He is the eldest man in the family, with a lifetime of knowledge and experience. He just knows so much about everything. Even with stuff that he has no direct experience, he can relate to them and make sensible comments or suggestions about them. He is one of those people who is a joy to talk to. What’s more, he knows so much of our family history - stuff that has been passed down the family from generation to generation as well as things that have happened in the last three, four generations. I really wish that we live just a little closer so that I can pick up more of these family stories. There is just so much to learn and much of it is just fascinating. It is truly humbling to learn of the achievements of my forefathers.
Home: Road signs!!!!! They are really useful things, especially if you’re not familiar with the layouts of the lanes or need to get from one place to another. However, why are they so hard to see? And why are they located so close to the junctions? Heathrow is not a location we frequent and certainly not in our car. After picking up my uncle, we returned to the car and proceeded to try to go home. I left the car park slip road and immediately presented with three lanes. Being not familiar with the area, I moved to the slow lane. Almost immediately, I noticed the lower corner of a road sign, but the top half was obscured by trees. A little further, I saw another sign and this one informed me that at the next junction, I needed to be on the fast lane to go to direction I wanted to go. There was no way for me to try to squeeze in there as there were two solid lanes of traffic. So we found ourselves traveling on the motorway in the opposite direction to where we want to go. Luckily, the next junction wasn’t far off, so I could turn around and get back to the right direction of travel.
Home: Neither the Ruler_of_spike nor I have any relatives living in the UK, so every time we have contact with them, someone has to do some traveling. For my relatives, they all live thousands of miles from the UK, so seeing them is not a frequent event. So it was with particular pleasure that one of my uncles decided to visit London for the first time in 22 years! We actually haven’t seen each other for over 15 years, with him being in western Canada. While I was waiting in the arrival area of Terminal 5 at Heathrow airport, I suddenly panicked - What if we didn’t recognize each other? After all, fifteen years is a long time even for the most familiar of people and we only briefly saw each other in the few years before then. A lot changes can occur in the intervening years. What really didn’t help was that the plane was delayed after landing as the taxing area was too busy to allow them to get to the assigned gate, but this was not relayed to the arrival display. The only information I had was that the plane has landed. After spending over ninety minutes concentrating on every person coming out of the secured area, I was getting tired and found it difficult to pick out faces in the crowd. Thankfully, despite years of not seeing each other, our faces are imprinted in our memory and even though both he and I looked different from all those years ago, we could recognize each other without much trouble.